A written order from the Sindh High Court calling for the release said that Sheikh and three other men had “suffered irreparable harm and extreme prejudice” after spending 18 years behind bars prior to their acquittal and then “almost a further nine months” based on detention orders issued by the Sindh government.
The court order was not fully signed off by end of business on Thursday and the men remained in custody.
Pearl, who was working as the South Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, was in Karachi reporting on Pakistani extremists and British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid when he was kidnapped and then beheaded by militants.
The high profile abduction drew international attention, amid growing concern over the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism. Assailants later filmed his beheading and sent it to US officials. It was among the first propaganda videos targeting hostages created by extremists, and helped to inspire other terror groups to film horrific and egregious acts of violence.
Pakistani authorities and the Pearl family have separately appealed against the April overturning of Sheikh’s conviction to the Supreme Court, according to Pearl family attorney Faisal Siddiqui. The next hearing in that separate case is due in early January.